The biggest reward I find in teaching is seeing students become more sophisticated communicators. To be present during those “now I understand” moments, those points where students surprise themselves, is my favorite take-away from the job. Whether it is in a poetry workshop or a first- year composition class, being present at those breakthroughs is a treasure. Observing these transformations is a source of pride for me.
My teaching philosophy is grounded in the idea of discourse communities and establishing an inclusive and stimulating classroom culture. This is the most important teaching concept I have learned, both in pedagogical study and real-world practice. The process of creating an effective discourse community, one in which students see themselves as peers, is a central concern in my teaching. In both the poetry and composition classroom, I strive to create an environment in which students are given opportunities to teach each other. During the first month of teaching an undergraduate English course, I take steps to integrate the students into a positive culture, one in which they feel comfortable in sharing their opinions and ideas, but also one where each student feels a bit challenged. I have found group work as very helpful in this regard, particularly in the first month of a semester. In teaching FYC or an introductory poetry course, for example, I incorporate low-stakes group activities that allow students to speak from their own experience. In the beginning weeks, for example, I stress the idea that we are all experts in something and have students reflect and discuss their interests and backgrounds, how they could share their expertise to create something. These group activities then build, in the first month or so, into students discussing broad philosophical or ethical concepts, such as how naivete might be a good thing (poetry workshop) or how information from learning objectives can relate to social and power structures. By sharing their diverse backgrounds and opinions, my aim is to expand students’ world-view and create new avenues for understanding and empathy.
My teaching style is mostly Socratic, with emphasis on class discussion, with me proffering questions and, where possible, letting the students guide each other organically toward lesson points. I encourage students to share personal experiences and use their expertise and I strive to create an environment of sharing and mutual inquiry.
Lecture has its place in my classroom, and each week will, invariably, feature lectures and more traditional instruction, but I prefer to have group inquiry in focus during class time. I want students to believe that their time in my classroom offers opportunities to grow together, and that each brings their own unique ethos. I aspire to create an instructional environment that celebrates diversity and that uses diversity as a fulcrum for new knowledge. In this regard, I incorporate readings from a wide range of different voices, often originating from local communities. In my FYC class at UWM, my students read texts from local Native American groups, incarcerated people in Milwaukee county, and WI residents bankrupted by the housing crisis. They will explore texts about Rohingya refugees, of which Milwaukee has the biggest grouping in the US. These texts not only showcase a range of diverse voices and perspectives, but they fit into the course objective framework of FYC at UWM, which involves a theme of Milwaukee, the city and its residents.
In terms of online teaching, I gained valuable expertise at Missouri State, both in formal instruction and real-world practice. I was BlackBoard® Black Belt certified each year of my teaching and I became an advocate for Universal Design. I have taught 15-hours of online instruction, both undergraduate and split-level, and in each case, I built my course from scratch. (Indeed, my framework for ENG 203 and 562/662 have since been adopted by MSU as their default). I strive to create online environments that are welcoming and stimulating, where instructor presence and co-presence are a major focus, but also environments wherein the differently-abled felt comfortable and unimpeded. My poetry courses, for example, incorporated audio feedback from me, where each student could hear my voice and (in the split course), that of a tenured professor. My online courses featured audio lectures (with transcripts), where students could hear my voice, as well as those of other poets. I would video conference with students and participate in their workshops, lending a little help where I saw things quieting.
Online courses can create a feeling of isolation and I work to lessen that. I want students to feel a co-presence with me and that I am working with them. In my course evaluations, students praised these efforts toward co-presence. When designed properly and diligently maintained, online courses can be quite wonderful. Moreover, I see virtual instruction as empowering for a range of demographics, some of which might otherwise be precluded from the collegiate experience. Some of my students have been blind, for example, and others confined to their home due to disability. Using Universal Design principles, such as screen-reader friendly text and page design, as well as transcripts and meta-tagging, I work to provide equal and simultaneous access to all my students
At the core, my view on teaching involves the idea of camaraderie, not just with students, but with departmental peers and the academic community at large. I strive to create an environment where students are given opportunities to teach one another Ideally, and has often happened, my students teach me something, too, and that reciprocation never gets old.